Saturday, 27 January 2018

Reigate and Colley Hills

Colley Hill
Our first outing of 2018 and a rare Sunday with good weather.  We had to choose carefully as the wet weather has made many local places either unwalkable or at least unenjoyable because of the mud.  It was a nice short one to cut our teeth on post Christmas and with a modest climb at the end to get our pulses racing a little.  It is walk 2 in volume 65 of the Pathfinder Guide Surrey Walks (also appears as walk 4 in volume 24 Surrey and Sussex Walks).

Reigate Hill
We just about managed to park in the car park at the top of Reigate Hill - it seems as if a big chunk of Surrey had similar ideas to us.  A little patience was required and we got lucky when someone pulled out just as we were about to give up.  One of the big attractions of this car park is that the National Trust have set up a refreshment booth here - a most welcome facility at the beginning or end of any walk.

Reasonably Clean
The first part of this walk is along the North Downs Way although in an unfamiliar direction to me as we headed west (for some reason I always think that downland walks should be W-E).  It promised to be reasonably dry walking and largely delivered apart from a couple of mucky gateways.  The start didn't bode well as the bridge over the A217 was probably the muddiest part of all!  Luckily once we had negotiated that we had no further problems.

Reigate Fort
Not far past the road bridge we passed by Reigate Fort.  This is a surprisingly new installation, not being built for Napoleonic times as I first thought but in the last decade of the 1800s, during a lesser known period of mistrust between Britain and France.  It was one of a dozen similar forts built along the North Downs to act as a strategic defence of London.  This one has been restored in recent years and interpretive boards installed to tell the story of the place.  The girls were anxious to move on so we didn't look around on this occasion - maybe next time.

Crash Memorial
Our onward route took us through tracts of woodland with only occasional views south.  One of the clearings had quite a poignant reason as it was created by an aeroplane crash during World War 2.  All 9 crew on the Flying Fortress were killed on their return towards Northamptonshire from their mission in Germany.  The crash is now commemorated by two replica wingtips placed at the exact distance apart that the real aircraft would have had.

Further on through the woods and a further reminder of the war came into a view - a pretty substantial pillbox.  I remember from walking this stretch of the North Downs Way a few years ago that pillboxes are quite thick on the ground in this part of Surrey.  Not much further and we came to the most recognisable landmark on the route - the pavilion erected at the top of Colley Hill.  This was originally built asa drinking fountain and bears the inscription "Presented to the Corporation of the Borough of Reigate for the benefit of the Public by Lieutenant-Colonel Robert William Inglis in 1909". It certainly makes for a wonderful viewpoint both along the crest of the North Downs towards Boxhill and beyond but also across the Weald to Leith Hill and the Greensand ridge to the south.  We could also see the planes taking off and landing at Gatwick beyond Reigate.

Colley Hill Pavilion
At the end of this nice open stretch of the Downs we passed by a huge water tower.  I'm guessing by the design that it was built in the 1930s - sure nothing would be built that ornate any longer.  We also passed by an old coal tax marker - I remember this being wonky when I passed by about 12 years ago.  Nothing has changed on that front!  We then had to negotiate our way around the back of some houses before our stint on the top of the Downs came to an end for this walk.

Tree Skeleton
One of the things I have always found surprising about the North Downs versus its southern equivalent is the number of houses that are built on the crest of the hill.  There are a number along this stretch of the North Downs. I guess they take advantage of the sunny aspect and the fact that they are never likely to have anything else built in the way.  For a walker though it is a little dispiriting as for quite long stretches all you get to see is back fences and parts of buildings (most of them are quite protective of their privacy as well).  

Water Tower
Having negotiated this last house we took the path down the steep slope almost to the very bottom.  We had to watch our step as it was pretty slick.  At the bottom we took a sharp left an took the parallel path along the foot of the scarp slope.  For the most part this was through woods as well and views outwards were at a premium even with all the leaves gone from the trees.  We did get the odd view up the slope and this demonstrated what a steep climb it was likely to be at the other end of the walk.

Wonky Post
At the bottom of Colley Hill we passed by the remains of Hearthstone Mine.  Hearthstone was a form of greensand that was very popular as a cleaning product back in Victorian times.  The mine was unusual in that it also had a processing works on site as well although you would be very hard pressed to find much evidence of it now other than a few earthworks.  Some of the buildings were destroyed by a V1 Doodlebug bomb in World War II.  The mine limped on after the war for a time but succumbed to the inevitable closure in 1961.  The mine entrance was then filled in by explosion.

Hearthstone Mine
Our onward route was pretty mucky in places and a couple of times we had to take avoiding action to miss the worst of the mud.  Eventually we  reached the bottom of Reigate Hill on the A217.  Just as we thought we might have to walk alongside the road an almost hidden path on the left took us up the hill away from the road.  This was definitely a sting in the tail but all the way up I think the thought of the hot drink and bacon roll from the refreshment kiosk kept us going. 

Reigate Hill
At the very top of the hill we were reunited with the North Downs Way and retraced our steps the short distance past the old fort once again to cross the main road and find the car park.  We had an enjoyable snack and drink and savoured the view across Reigate and beyond satisfied with our first outing of the year.  This isn't a difficult walk but a perfect winter outing when energy levels are generally low.

Colley Hill

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Nyman's Woodland Walk

Nymans View
After our tour around Petworth Park using one of the National Trust walks we thought we would have a go at another since time was short.  This time we headed up to Nymans, a garden at the north end of our county.  It is one that we visit regularly but what we don't do very often is venture into the extensive woods beyond.  In fact the last time we did was many years ago when my children were small and it proved to be a real struggle for them to get around the relatively modest distance (2.5 miles).

Setting Off Into The Woods
I am a little behind with writing this up - the walk was actually completed at the height of autumn when the trees were at the zenith of their colours and this is the main reason why we thought we would give the walk a go.  The start of the walk is actually at the back of the car park and not close to the main entrance.  It disappears down a tree hollow on a slope that is deceptively steep.  We had to watch our step for the muddy season was already underway and we were concerned that we might end up sliding down on our backsides if we weren't careful.

At the bottom of the slope and still on our feet we were relieved to be able to turn left on to a more solid path with a much gentler slope.  Out of the tunnel of trees we had descended by we were also now able to enjoy the full majesty of the woodland.  Most of the trees were either beech or oak and in among them were some sculptures along the way.  Sadly we didn't manage to see them all but the first caught my daughter's eye as they were a couple of owls.  She is a massive owl fan and really enjoyed seeing them so early on in the walk.

Glimpse From The Wood
I particularly enjoyed the walk through Cow Wood.  The majesty of the trees was something else although it was fairly obvious that seasons were about to change with the arrival of the holly berries providing some different colour along the way.  At the eastern end of the wood views opened up out into surrounding Wealden countryside - I imagine that the tract of woodland that once covered this area must have been cleared at some point and not allowed to grow back.  Soils around here are pretty poor so I doubt it was for growing crops - more likely for keeping livestock.

Cow Wood
A little further on and we passed by the rather fairytale like Woodlands Cottage.  This is now a National Trust holiday home and looks like a mighty fine place to stay.  It was occupied as we went past - someone had picked their week well.  It's heritage as a woodman's cottage was plain to see as we went past for the outhouses complete with woodcutter's tools were also still present.

Woodland Cottage
Just past the cottage and our route descended still further, this time to the end of a lake that we were to get a better view of later.  We turned left again and walked up though coppice woodlands to the top of a slope.  This proved to be the most popular part of the route and we were glad of the breaks on the hill that we needed to let people past.  It was a short but testing hill and enough to get us breathing but when we got to the top we were faced with some of the worst mud we had encountered yet.  Luckily previous walkers had shown us the way by doing some work arounds from the main path and heading past some of the trees on the other side from the main path.

Crossing The Field
The onward path descended slowly and through big piles of leaves that just begged to be kicked over as we walked through.  This is surely one of the joys of an autumn walk?  Soon we were to come to a fence blocking our way ahead and we had to take a sharp right hand turn and descend to a field.  After all the woodland walking thus far it seemed strange to head out across an open field like this.  The light and airy field didn't last too long though - over the next stile and we were back in the woodland, this time at the other end of the lake we had passed earlier.

The Lake
It was worth pausing at the lake for its serenity was beautiful and for me the highlight of the whole walk.  Somehow its mood seemed to calm down passing children too - they lost their boisterousness and admired the reflections instead.  We walked along a little of its shore before turning left to head up the last stretch of the woodland back to the main house of Nymans.  The mood of this woodland was quite different from the earlier one though, principally because there are conifers on this stretch and the left hand side is overlooked by some sandstone crags.

Which Way?
We climbed up the valley side and soon came to the edge of the wood.  Our route up to the main house skirted the wood for a bit and this proved to be a much wetter route than we expected.  It looked as if there are some springs along this section of path so be warned if you attempt it during the winter months.

Finding The Edge of the Woods
The path rose slowly at first and then up a final steeper section until we were at the entrance to the house. Nymans isn't all it appears.  For one thing it isn't nearly as old as you might think.  It was built in the early 20th Century to replace an older Regency house.  It is ruined now following a disastrous fire in 1947 which gutted the main building.  Although a portion was rebuilt and was lived in for a time most of the house remains a ghostly shell.  In 1987 the garden was ravaged by the Great Storm, which felled a huge number of trees.  Yet despite these two calamities the house and garden are fascinating to visit at any time of year and we lingered in the garden for quite a time, enjoying the lingering dahlias and roses that were still trying to cling on to the long gone summer.

Remembering The Great Storm
This walk is more of a stroll than a serious expedition but it does add extra enjoyment to a visit to Nymans and is worth a look if you have plenty of time for your visit.  The whole distance is 2.5 miles and should take no more than 90 minutes to complete.

Nymans House

Friday, 29 December 2017

Petworth Park

Setting  Off

Sometimes you don't have to walk far to pack a lot of scenery and interest in and that is certainly the case for this one.  We did this walk when autumn was at its zenith and were keen on making a trip to Petworth Park so we could see both the trees in colour and the rutting deer.  Petworth Park does not appear in any of the Guidebooks we have so we decided to have a go at one of the estate walks provided by the National Trust instead.  There are many such walks to explore so they will probably be a feature of future expeditions.

Autumn Colours
It was one of those glorious autumn days where there is still a little residual warmth in the air from the sun.  We had by now had quite a lot of autumn rain though and conditions in places promised to be a bit sticky as a result.  The walk starts at the north end of Petworth Park at the car park close to the A283.  It is possible to start at one of the other car parks but you will have a different starting point and will almost inevitably have to walk further as a result.  Be warned about this car park though - it is extremely popular and you may struggle to find a space on the nicest days.

Initially the walk runs parallel with the main road heading south.  The walk is designed to highlight the most notable species of tree in the park which was landscaped by Capability Brown back in the 1750s.  I wonder what Mr Brown would make of today's planning laws?  I find it unlikely that he would have got very far with any of his landscaped parks if he were building them now and yet it is unthinkable that these most celebrated parks should not exist.

Great Oak
The first of the highlighted trees we reached were some mature specimens of English oak (Quercus robur), beech (Fagus sylvatica) and aspen (Populus tremula) in the woodland surrounding the car park. Soon the path took a route through trees on both sides. It wasn't much further on that we encountered a tree with a plaque behind it on the wall declaring it to be the Beelzebub Oak.  It derived this name because the land beyond the boundary was considered to be spiritually suspect!  The tree itself is at least 250 years old, suggesting that it may have been planted at the same time the park was laid out

Lower Pond
A little further on was the Lower Pond, a smaller and less celebrated body of water than the one immediately in font of the main house.  Some of the trees that surround the pond were already mature when the park was laid out, which gives some clue to their relative ages.  The largest oak and sweet chestnuts are reckoned to be at least 350 years old.  It seems that the pond was an attractive way to deal with the problem of flooding as this area was a swamp and was described as ‘fowle and deepe of myre’.

Climbing Up To Lawn Hill
When following a walk such as this you get a different insight into the landscape.  I have walked past dead trees many times but only fleetingly have I given much thought about their importance as a habitat.  We passed by one just the other side of the pond dam which has been cut back only to make it safe. As the guide pointed out wherever possible standing dead wood, fallen wood, twigs and leaf litter is left to support a wide variety of fungi, insects, birds and bats. Leaving the dead wood enables nature to carry out its recycling work and is credited with the difference in recovery from the 1987 Hurricane in managed and unmanaged woodlands.  Those where the dead wood was left behind largely recovered more quickly than those where the wood was removed.

By now we became aware of barking dogs and quickly realised that we were passing a boarding kennel.  I suspect they were doing brisker business than usual on account of it being half term.  When I rechecked the guide at this point to make sure we were taking the right path I was astonished to read that a bypass was planned to come through the park here in the early 1970s.  An act of vandalism on that scale would have been unforgiveable but fortunately the plans were shelved, I imagine as one of the victims of the Oil Crisis of 1973.

Upper Pond
As we headed up the hill we passed possibly the oldest tree in the Park, one of three very old English oaks. This ancient tree is estimated to be some 940 years old, so would have been a very young tree at the time of the Norman invasion. At the top of the hill we crossed Lawn Hill to a fallen sweet chestnut which was a casualty of the 1987 storm and was a mere 265 years old at the time of its demise.

Main Track
The Upper Lake was now in view as we continued across the brow of the hill.  From here we could see the South Downs and the Greensand Ridge to the north. For my money this was the best part of the whole walk - you could really get a feel for the vision that Capability Brown had from this spot.  It would have been hard to imagine how the park looked in his day for clearly many of the trees would have been much reduced in size and the water features would still have looked rather imposed on the landscape.  We soon dropped down the hill to meet the shoreline of the lake and followed around it for a short distance.

Clouds and Tree in Harmony
Within the copse around the lake we noted the mature Swamp Cypress (Taxodium distichum), which were introduced from North America in 1638. I remember seeing these when I walked through another park in London while undertaking the LOOP many years ago.  The shoreline path follows some metal railings and these are designed to exclude most of the browsing deer and allow scrub to grow beneath the trees.  This then provides a haven for wildlife, supporting breeding birds such as chiffchaff, willow warbler, black cap and nectar for insects
View Across the Park

As the trees thinned we climbed up and away from the pond. When we came upon to a very old hollow Common Lime (Tilia x europaea), we stopped to explore it a bit.  Experts have found aging this tree rather difficult as the trunk has fragmented.  It could be is 500 to 600 years old with a girth of 7.46m. It could continue as a hollow shell for several hundred years and certainly didn't seem to be in distress.  We paused here for a period of time and had the lunch that we had brought with us.

Once refreshed we continued to the top of the hill.  Once there was a farm up here but it has now long gone. We turned right on to the main track and this followed an obvious route initially through trees before opening out to another splendid view to the north.  Below us we got the first sight of the deer which call Petworth Park their home.  It was rutting season and even at a fair distance we could hear the bellows of the stags wooing the lady deer.  No doubt this is a very important season for male deer and the racks of antlers on show were quite impressive.  Many of the female deer seemed rather uninterested - they were too busy browsing and getting enough calories inside them for the winter months ahead. In fact we were so busy watching the deer that we didn't pay attention to the route and missed the opportunity to walk to the top of Monument Hill.  Perhaps we will do that another time?  I have a hunch that this would be a tremendous walk for a summer's evening.

After walking along the largely level track for some time and enjoying our vantage point for the deer below I suddenly became aware that we were approaching the car park once again and took a turn to the right to follow the line of trees that lead down to our car.  By now we were joined by other families out for a stroll and the half hour or so we had to ourselves was over.  Despite the lovely sun and the undoubted popularity of the park we did well to have solitude for that long.  I have no doubt we'll be back - that summer's evening is beckoning!


Sunday, 19 November 2017

Barcombe Mills and the Ouse Valley

Barcombe Mills Station
Back to Sussex for the next walk and this one oozes nostalgia for me as this was an area that I spent much of my youth in.  I was accompanied by big daughter for this walk courtesy of an INSET day and she got to hear plenty of stories of yesteryear as we headed round the four and a half mile loop.  This is walk 5 from Pathfinder Guide vol 67 East Sussex and the South Downs.

Trackbed North of Barcombe Mills
Our walk started at the erstwhile Barcombe Mills station, closed in 1969 and not by Dr Beeching like so many others but as a result of the severing of the route in Lewes by a road scheme.  Sadly the road scheme was obsolete by the time it was built and replaced by a by-pass only 9 years later.  After closure it was derelict for many years and became a tearoom for a short period of time before reverting to a house.  It remains in good condition even though a train hasn't called here in nearly 50 years.

When I was a kid and less than a decade after closure we moved to a house only a stone's throw from the old line and the cutting that ran past our house became a playground for me in the few years that we lived there.  By the time I was old enough I resolved to walk the length of the line and did so with a friend of mine.  We had to take a detour for part of the route at the Lewes end but it was essentially complete after that all the way into the old goods yard at Uckfield station.  The first part of our route today walked part of the trackbed to the north of Barcombe Mills station and is one of the few lengths of the route that isn't overgrown or blocked off.  For most of my life there has been much chatter about re-opening it but it would take a good deal of investment judging by the shape of it.

Autumn Colours
The trackbed here is in pretty decent condition but the going is rather easier than it was in the early 1980s when I remember this section being bare ballast.  It isn't any more although the compacted surface makes for good walking.  All along the side of the embankment were signs of autumn - plenty of berries were on show and it looks like a great corridor for wildlife these days.  After crossing a couple of bridges over drainage ditches the line became more tree lined and it was clear how much vegetation encroachment had taken place since my last expedition along here.  In fact the path was quite hemmed in in places.

Level Crossing
At the next level crossing we came upon some rails still in place but it was obvious that the way ahead was no longer accessible and we had to turn left along Anchor Lane for a short distance.  The crossing keeper's cottage was still in situ and made for a good looking home.  It was also up for sale - I wish I had a bit of loose change as I would surely have been first in the queue.  Our walk along the lane was short lived - we turned right along the rather strange Blunt's Lane.  This was seemingly a bit of spare ground between fields and hemmed in by hedges rather than a lane that I would normally have recognised.  Along the way we passed by a pillbox notable for the poor condition of its bricks.  Rather bizarrely the mortar looked in far better shape.

Our luck then ran out with underfoot conditions as we found ourselves walking along a tributary of the River Ouse.  The mud was pretty horrific along a short stretch of path and we went quickly from pristine to being completely covered!  Fortunately this section was short lived and after we had crossed via a small footbridge we managed to find a much more dry path across the next field.  By now the overcast day was relenting a bit too and the odd patch of sunshine was helping us along our way.

The next bridge took us across the River Ouse proper and our route back would now largely be long the riverbank back to Barcombe Mills.  It wasn't far past this spot that we saw our only other walker on the whole day - a dog walker helping keep his dog clean by throwing a ball in the river for him.  He had the right idea for a little further along and the mud came back to haunt us as we approached the old railway once again, this time by a bridge over the river.  This bridge still seems to be in good condition despite the length of time since a train passed over it.  I imagine it was left here because of the relative difficulty of retrieving it.

Ouse Bridge
A little further past the bridge and we passed by the Anchor pub.  This is a good spot for a spot of lunch and perhaps on another day we might have done so but for the fact we had had lunch before setting out.  For such a remote pub (it is a couple of miles from the nearest village) it looks in pretty good health.  It is still possible to take a boating trip along the river although the boats looked completely idle today!

River Ouse
We passed by the pub and watched the weir for a short time.  I was always fascinated by this as a child - perhaps the nearest thing to a waterfall I saw in my local area!  Further along the river and we passed by a house being renovated into something quite amazing looking.  It now has a small moat around it with bridges across from the path we were on.  It all looks rather charming.

Rail Bridge
We left the river for a short while and headed across another field before coming to a lengthy footbridge that I remember very well.  I always had an affinity for footbridges and this was always one of my favourites as a kid - we used to play pooh sticks from it all the time.  From here the path winds around the river bank underneath the embankment guarding Barcombe Reservoir and I always found this a bit mysterious for you never see the expanse of water beyond.

The Anchor
Eventually we found our way back to Barcombe Mills.  This place has a couple of bits of history for me - the first are the erstwhile mills themselves.  These burned down in 1939 but the water features that served them are still in place and fascinate me as much now as when I was a boy.  The second feature is a lot more personal and rather less obvious - the Bob Davis Scout Hut which lurks at the back of a nearby farm.  I wasn't even sure it was still there as I hadn't been in more than 25 years.  I remember being at the official opening in 1979 at a tender age having just joined Scouts.  The group I belonged to was one of the strongest in all of Sussex but sadly fell by the wayside many years ago.  I was pleased to see that the hut was still there although it was obviously all shut up.  I felt rather heartened that all our hard work keeping the place going (including several repaintings - I'm not sure it always needed it but was a great excuse for staying out there) had not gone to waste.  It was a lovely way to complete our walk and for my daughter to learn more about my young life.

House Renovation
This may not be the most exciting walk and it was certainly not helped by an overcast day but for me this was a great trip down memory lane and I reckon I will do this one again in a few years time.

Pooh Sticks Bridge